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I just couldn’t believe that it had happened. Alexa had been my best friend since preschool, and we had vowed never to stop being friends. We had grown up together, all the way to the summer before grade twelve. We were so excited about graduating and how we would be adults soon. We were both determined to get boyfriends and jobs, and we would go to the same college too.
All of this was before Alexa got sick. I don’t know how the doctors didn’t see anything before it was too late, but that’s what happened. She was always so excited about life, always crashing headlong into everything without a second thought. Seeing her in the hospital, thin and pale as a sheet, it was like the disease had killed her off long before she actually died.
Two days after school started again, she died. My parents let me take a week off. Sure, I had known she was going to die, but still, having it actually happen was terrible.
All day, I wandered the empty house like a lost ghost, either crying loudly or sitting, absolutely silent, lost in my memories. Having had a best friend for so long, one didn’t really have time for other close friends, so now I was alone. So completely alone.
One day, I took a walk in the park near our house. I felt awful and didn’t really want to be out, but I had been sitting around for too long as well.
The wind was chilly, blowing dry leaves all around me and down the pathway. A child and her mother walked ahead of me, and the child laughed as the leaves fluttered around her like butterflies. I envied her, in a melancholy way. She didn’t know what she had, to feel so happy and carefree.
Finally crashing onto a secluded park bench, I wrapped my arms around myself and sighed. Even though the sun was shining, it felt like the world was cold and dead. The future had been so hopeful, Alexa and me together, conquering the world. I had always been the shyer of the two of us, so I had always relied on her self-confidence. Now I was nothing.
“Hello.” Someone sat down next to me. I was surprised but said, “Hello.”
“What are you thinking about?” She asked, looking at me curiously. She seemed to be as old as I was, and her hair was the exact shade of red as mine.
I shrugged, sighing. “Life. The future, mostly. I had hope for the future once, you see, but now it really scares me. I had a best friend, and we were going to face the future together, but…she died.”
She nodded, taking this in. Then she laughed a little. “Why even bother thinking about the future though? I mean, who’s to say there even is a future for you? You might die tomorrow, for all we know.”
Her words startled me. “I…I don’t know, people always seem to have plans for the future. They’re always thinking about it.”
Tossing her hair, she said, “Seriously, don’t bother with the future. It probably doesn’t exist. I mean, it seems like you’re pretty much a wreck right now. I don’t see how you can even think about facing the future.”
Her words stung me deeply this time and I looked at her. Her eyes reflected mine like small mirrors. I looked at myself in them and knew she was right. “I am a wreck, I guess.” I said with a sigh. She patted my shoulder. “Oh don’t worry about it. You’ll get through this. See, I’m here to help you.”
“You are?” I asked, wondering who on earth she was. She nodded confidently and stood up. “I’m going to take care of you, from now on. To help you deal with the loss of your friend.”
Standing up, she stretched a little and then held out her hand. “Come on, let’s go back to your house. And don’t worry about anything. I’m your friend now. You don’t have anyone else anyway.”
She stayed with us for the week that I took off from school. Around my parents, she was quiet and stayed out of the way. But my parents worked all day and came home late at night, and so she and I had many long talks about basically everything.
Because I had always been so happy before, with a best friend who took care of me, I was actually very naïve. She explained to me over and over again how the world actually was. I was shocked and horrified by how wrong my perception had been.
For instance, on the second to last day of my stay at home, I asked, “Is there no happiness in this world at all?”
She chuckled and patted my head affectionately. “Of course there is, but it’s only for a select few. The people who deserve happiness are happy. Because you’re not happy, you obviously don’t deserve it.”
For that entire week, she had been telling me truths like that one. They left me hollow inside, but I knew they were the reality of this world, and so I had to accept them.
The evening before I had to go back to school, I was standing on the porch, watching the sun set. She stood next to me, sighing dramatically. “You must think the sunset is so pretty, don’t you.”
Feeling tired, I nodded a little. “The colors are nice…” I began, but she cut me off. “Colors? Oh, dear, I forgot to tell you about colors, didn’t I?”
She left for a moment and then came back, carrying something. “Put these on. They’ll show you how the world actually looks.”
I took the item from her. It looked like a pair of glasses, the wire rims black as obsidian. Putting them on, I looked around and gasped. Gone were the striking reds, oranges and pinks of the twilight sky. Instead, the streaks were simply different shades of grey and black, charcoal lines of an angry artist.
“Is this really the way the world looks?” I asked, tears welling up in my eyes. She nodded. “Keep wearing the glasses. The illusions of color will only hurt you, in the end.”
“I’m coming to school with you.” She said, handing me clothing to wear. Black pants, a black shirt and a big black sweater. “Are you sure I should wear this?” I asked, still sad that colors were a lie.
She nodded. “The dark clothing will keep people from noticing you anymore than they have to. Oh and about your hair…just leave it be. Seriously, no matter what you do with it, it’ll still look bad. So just don’t bother.”
I agreed with her sadly. My hair really was ugly and brushing it would only make it worse. Before I left my room, she handed me the glasses. “Don’t take these off, okay? Besides helping you see colors properly, they’ll show you other truths about the world too.”
At school, she didn’t really talk to anyone, but that was because she was talking to me. Constantly, she had some little bit of information to tell me as I went through my day. I hadn’t realized how truly awful school was. People constantly whispered about me as I walked by, and she told me it was because they hated me. I knew it had to be true, because she always told the truth.
By lunch time, all I really wanted to do was go to sleep. Every night for the past week, she’d kept me awake by talking and talking. Getting so little sleep had taken its toll on me and now I could barely think straight. Hoping some sugar would wake me up a little, I began to eat a chocolate bar that I’d bought earlier.
Before I could take my second bite, however, she said, “You’re not really going to eat all of that, are you?”
I looked down at it, and suddenly it didn’t look so good anymore. My stomach twisted up in knots and for a second, I thought I would throw up. “I guess I shouldn’t.” I whispered.
She shook her head vehemently. “You don’t need the extra pounds it will add. I mean, really, you need to be super careful about what you eat. You’re really pushing the weight limit as it is.”
Tears threatened to spill out of my eyes and I looked away, trying not to cry. She sighed. “Oh, don’t start crying. I’m only telling you the truth. And you’ll look like a freak if you cry. So stop it.”
A few days later, in class, we were doing some work, when this really cute guy walked by, smiling at me as he did. For the first time in what seemed like ages, I felt a little dance of hope inside and my face blushed pleasantly. Turning to her, I whispered, “Did you see that? He smiled at me!”
The look of contempt she gave me froze the smile on my face, and then wilted it. The bell rang and she said, “Come on, let’s go to the bathroom.”
Once we were there, and alone, she said, “Look at this mirror. What do you see?”
Her glasses showed me the truth all the time, but saying the truth out loud made it seem more real. Biting my lip, I said, “I see an ugly, fat, freckled girl with ugly red hair. Her clothes aren’t fashionable and she’s not wearing makeup. Her eyes are red, from crying every night.”
She nodded. “Good, good. You’re seeing reality, instead of denying it. Now, if you thought that the boy in class was smiling at you, then you’d be denying reality. He can’t have been smiling at you. He was probably looking at that really pretty girl who sat behind us.”
Her words tore across my heart and I felt my insides starting to cave in. “You’re right.” I whispered, feeling empty again. “I guess even hoping he’ll talk to me next class is just stupid.”
“It is. But I don’t blame you for these stupid thoughts. You’re not that smart, after all. That’s why you need me to tell you things.”
I really was beginning to feel awful, all the time. I could barely stay awake in class and my grades were suffering because of this. But I had stopped caring about my grades long ago. Once or twice my parents asked me about them, and halfheartedly, I told them I’d work harder. Pay more attention. That satisfied them and they left me alone again.
Everyone left me alone. A few times, the cute guy from that class had talked to me, saying he had heard about Alexa and how sorry he was about her death. Then he had asked if I wanted to eat with him and his friends. She had told him no, and as he walked away, she told me he was only being nice, because my friend had died. He didn’t really want to eat lunch with me.
There wasn’t really much that I cared about these days. I had developed a dull but steady pain in my heart, and it didn’t go away. Every time I moved, it hurt me. So I did nothing but sleep at home, and pretend to be awake at school.
One night as I lay wide awake, wishing for sleep, the pain in my heart got to be too much. Tears streamed from my eyes, as they always did but crying didn’t lessen the pain, as it had in the past. I couldn’t go on like this.
“Hey, what’s going on?” She asked, sitting on my bed. I was curled up on my side, hugging my pillow. “The pain in my heart.” I rasped, feeling awful. “It’s just too much. It’s not going away.”
“I can help.” She said and got up. After a few moments, she came back, carrying a pair of scissors. “This will lessen the pain, trust me.”
I stared at her in horror. “I can’t! I can’t do that!”
“Look, either take the scissors or stop whining about the pain. This will help.” She said snappishly, holding out the scissors.
A few moments later, the pain inside did go away, just as the outside pain hit me. My tears were gone now, replaced by a sense of calm. For the first time in ages, I knew I could fall asleep easily, the pain inside me numbed.
The world was dark and everyone had a light, except for me. I didn’t deserve one. I was going to die. I wanted to die.
“Honey, we’re going to church. Are you sure you don’t want to come with us this time?” My mother asked, and I rolled over painfully. My arms were stretched out before me, crisscrossed with scars, fresh and old. She sat nearby, picking her nails.
For some reason, something inside me wanted to. After months of being isolated, only talking to her, I wanted to go out and be among people.
“It’s a stupid idea.” She said, not even looking up. “You’re a freak. They’re church people. To them, you’re a lost cause and shouldn’t even be near them.”
I nearly backed down then, knowing she was right. I was a freak and there was no way people would want me around. But still…I wanted to go.
Standing up, I grabbed a sweater with long sleeves and threw it on. After quickly running my fingers through my tangled hair, I started to walk out of the door. She ran forward and blocked me. “What are you doing? You can’t go out there! You know that!”
“Why not?” I asked, and for the first time, I felt irritated with her. I crossed my arms, wincing a little as a fresh scar caught on material. “If I want to go out, I’ll go out. It’s only for a few hours. If they really don’t want me there, then I’ll be gone soon anyway.”
Anger flashed in her eyes and for a moment, I thought she might try to hit me. Then she stepped out of the way. “You’ll see.” She said venomously. “I know best. You’re only going to get hurt and you’ll have only yourself to thank for that.”
She was really starting to annoy me. Walking by her without even a glance in her direction, I stormed out to the car and got in. She stayed behind.
“Today I wanted to talk to all of you about God, and how He heals us. Psalm chapter 147, verse 3, says ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ God sees the cuts in our hearts, all the pain we might have, and wants to heal them.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Tears welled up in my eyes, and for a second, I thought I might start sobbing. This horrified me, because there were people from school here, including the cute guy from my class. But the speaker, the wife of the youth pastor, spoke with such fervor that I felt like I could almost believe it. A part of me desperately wanted to believe it.
At the same time, I didn’t see how she could actually understand what pain was. She seemed really happy, which she should have been, because her life was good. She didn’t feel pain inside like I did, or struggle with the desire to die every night. Suddenly feeling lied to, I was just about to get up, when she said something that froze me in my tracks.
“When I was younger, I struggled with depression, and finally started cutting, to get rid of the pain that the depression brought. It twisted who I was, ruined me inside and I felt utterly worthless. I finally told someone and got help. It took a very long time to change, and to deal with the depression. But just the simple comfort of knowing God was with me the entire time helped a little. He wanted the best for me and it hurt him to see me hurt.”
Tears were streaming down my face now and I could barely breathe. Even though I sat in the very back, where no one else was, I felt like everyone was staring at me. I didn’t dare move, or do anything.
I continued to sit there, even after everyone else had gone. The pastor’s wife came to sit next to me, and she didn’t even say anything before I poured everything out to her.
She stood in the doorway of the school, waiting for me, glaring impatiently. “What’s wrong with you today? You’ve barely said a word to me since Sunday. It’s starting to bug me.”
I was taking my time, looking around at everything. The glasses she’d given me were gone, and I was wearing light colored clothing. Though I still wore a long sleeved shirt, it was only because it was cold out. The colors of the world were truly beautiful, and I had missed seeing them.
“Would you hurry up? People are going to stare at you if you walk so slowly.” She said, crossing her arms angrily.
I walked up to her, feeling light inside. The pain was still there, and I knew it would take some time before it was completely gone. But I also had hope. A hope that shone with light, cutting through the darkness inside me.
“Listen to me.” I said to her. A small look of panic crossed her face, like she knew something was wrong. She shuffled her feet a little.
Taking a deep breath, I said, “You are not in control of me. Maybe I can’t get rid of you, but I don’t have to listen to you either.”
Her jaw dropped in horror. “What…what are you talking about? All I told you was the truth about the world, because you’re too stupid and delusional to see it.”
I shook my head. “No. Every single ‘truth’ you told me was an outright lie. You’re no friend of mine, and I refuse to let you run my life.”
She laughed harshly. “I’ll do whatever I please!” She stepped in front of the doorway, refusing to let me pass. She was so sure that I would cower and back off.
Instead, I looked her right in the way and said, “Move, Depression. I have hope in my heart and I’m going to live my life.”
She shrieked at the sound of her name and covered her ears. Shaking horribly, she backed away from me, her form twisting and melting into something ugly and disgusting. With one last terrible sound, she vanished completely.
Startled, I stood in the doorway for a moment, trying to recover. Someone pushed by me and then stopped. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to push you.”
It was the boy. Still in shock, I shrugged a little, showing it was alright. He smiled warmly and said, “I know I asked before, but are you sure you don’t want to eat lunch with me and my friends today?”
A smile grew across my face, and I felt at that moment that things would be alright, in the end. “You know what? I think I will today.”
I’ll be back and you know it. Her voice whispered as I walked into the school. I chuckled to myself. I know. But I’ll be ready for you.